WHEN Bernice Hardie learned, 27 years ago, that her daughter Jess had Down’s syndrome, people started to treat the family differently, and she became worried.
“I realised that this was not the way God wanted things to be,” she said this month. “I felt God asking me to join with others to do something to change this.”
Today, nine years after its first meeting, WAVE (We’re All Valued Equally) church fills its home at Muswell Hill Methodist church, bringing together those with and without learning disabilities.
From the map and print-pots that greet new arrivals, with an invitation to leave a fingerprint, to the visual timetable — signs for “prayer”, “singing”, etc. are gradually removed as the service progresses — WAVE church is designed to include its entire congregation.
The service includes Makaton sign-language and visual aids. “We recognise that some people with learning disabilities struggle with a normal service,” said Ingrid Skinner, giving the welcome at the latest service. “They have a very strong faith, they want to grow and develop, but just need a slightly different setting in which to do it. One thing that is really important is that we do stuff together: we do not do things for people with learning disabilities, but together.”
Jess Hardie was among those teaching the congregation Makaton signs for the hymns, and a talk on God’s Kingdom was led by Jennifer Rowlands, Church Partnerships Manager, at Livability, who described the growth of WAVE as one example of its coming: “That is how the Kingdom grows: by us having simple ideas and carrying them out with God’s help.”
Celebratory messages were sent from the local MP, Catherine West, and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally. In her invite, Mrs Hardie said that it was an opportunity to show “how the church actively benefits from having people with learning disabilities at the heart of what we do, rather than simply acknowledging their right to exist and be present in church”.
Worshippers were given gift bags containing a leaflet listing resources, and a small pack of mustard seeds: a reminder of “how things grow from little ideas and thoughts and feelings”, Mrs Hardie said.
“Look around you — this is what God’s kingdom coming looks like.”